An Interview with Charles E. Hill


Author of


 Blood Mountain Covenant, A Son’s Revenge


with accompanying photos

It is not often that one has an opportunity to read a splendid book featuring our mountain heritage and then actually have the experience of visiting those areas where that history took place.  On a bright and crisp April day, I met with Charles Hill and his lovely wife, Jackie, at their beautiful home in Blairsville.  What I had anticipated to be just a short visit for an interview became a full afternoon of delightful talk, wonderful hospitality and a driving tour of the Choestoe region as seen through the pages of the book.  History came alive that day, and with it, a deeper respect for the proud, independent and unpretentious mountain folks whose devotion to each other gives a whole new meaning to the word “family.”


          The Reverend John Henry Lance, the great-grandfather of Jackie Hill, was the victim of one of the most notorious murders that had ever taken place in Union County.  A devout Methodist preacher, Reverend Lance often denounced the evils of moonshine from the pulpit.  Beloved by his family and friends, John Lance preached love for his fellow man while condemning the evils of alcohol.  That did not “set right” with some of his neighbors, most notably the Swaims, who lived nearby on Yellow Mountain.  After an earlier incident when John Lance’s young son, Jim, was viciously beaten nearly to death, things went from bad to worse in their relationship with their cowardly, indolent neighbors.  Several months prior to the murder, Frank Swaim made veiled threats against John Lance’s life, so great was his anger at the Reverend’s diatribe against “this gangrene in our midst” (pg. 101).  Ultimately, the Swaims and Cannups believed that John Lance and his sons, Fate (Lafayette) and Jim, were the ones that reported their wildcat still to the revenuers. 


          “We are against moonshining, but reporting it is not the way we operate” said Jim Lance, in a confrontation with Frank Swaim over the ominous threats he had made against the Reverend Lance (pg. 108).  Lamentably, no argument from Jim Lance could change the moonshine-fueled rage that Frank Swaim held for all the Lance family.  On February 17, 1890, a murder most vile would forever shatter the only peace that Jim Lance and his family would ever know. 


          Charles Hill has written a factual narrative of a true family story in response to substantial misconceptions and misinformation that stemmed from several sources, most notably, from an article that appeared in 1925 in the Atlanta Journal Constitution newspaper.  Written by Frank Swaim’s defense attorney, Carl Wellborn, Jr., the article was filled with allegations and half-truths.  While doing research for his book, Mr. Hill was struck by how far from the truth this article was.  “It would have made a tremendous movie…it was romantic and far fetched.  I thought, well, this is a great story, but it doesn’t stack up with what we have been told.  So, that piqued my curiosity and that got me started,” said Mr. Hill.


          Thus commenced a writing journey that began in 1988 as a compilation of family history.  “I was never really sure that I wanted to publish it,” said Mr. Hill, “I just wanted to tell the truth.” When the Hills’ extended family gathered on cold winter evenings and played cards, their talk would eventually turn to a figure that loomed larger than life, that of Jim Lance.  Mrs. Hill’s dad, Jay Lance, would talk about his father.  “He was a man that was bigger than life itself.  He was a big fellow.  After this occurred (the murder), he was a tough individual,” said Mr. Hill, remembering from the many talks he had with his late father-in-law. 


          Mr. Hill quoted Jack Lance, another of Jim Lance’s sons, who said this about his dad, “My Daddy should have looked at the murder of his Daddy in the light that he was the first martyr to Prohibition in the state of Georgia.  But he didn’t do it…it (the murder) embittered him for life and the family suffered because of it.  He took to drinking because of it and never could get over it.  In his lifetime, he was in over a thousand fights.  Most of them he won because most of the people were afraid of Jim Lance.  He said he would walk a mile to get out of a fight but his Daddy would walk ten miles just to get into one. He also said he was the bravest man in the face of danger that he’d ever seen in his life, and that the family would not have been surprised at any time of the day or night that he didn’t come home because of his fighting escapades.”


          “People might think that he ought to have forgiven and initially I might think that.  But till I’ve walked in Jim Lance’s footsteps, and had the same things happened to me, I cannot tell how I would react” said Mr. Hill when I asked him if he thought Jim Lance carried this bitterness in his soul too far. 


          Charles Hill’s book is part history, part family lore, and an apt portrayal of the people and the culture of the Appalachian Mountains during the late nineteenth century.  Through his intensive research and in many of his talks with his late father-in-law, Jay Lance, Mr. Hill believes he has come close to depicting Jim Lance in the way that he would have spoken.  “The purist strain of Elizabethan English is spoken in these mountains and I’ve tried to use the old mountain sayings in this book as a way of preserving them,” he said.  “I think I hit it right on the head as to what he would have said.”


          Always interested in writing, but never thinking he would actually become a published author, Mr. Hill said that he would probably pursue the story of Jim Lance in the form of a sequel to Blood Mountain Covenant.  “I may do a sequel on this one because I stopped the story in 1925.  Jim Lance died in 1940.  I stopped it because it was getting so lengthy and I know a lot of people won’t read it if it gets so long, so I stopped there.  But there was as much action from 1925 up until the time that he died in 1940 as there was in the book that I’ve written.” 


           He has also “written up a bunch of funny stories about things that have happened in the mountains.  Don’t have them finished yet, but I’ve done that in my spare time.  I might do something with that,” he said with a smile.   Just listening to Mr. Hill speak in his soft mountain twang about his experiences and knowing the talent he has shown in the writing of Blood Mountain Covenant assures the reader that another outstanding book will debut in the future! 


          For those of you that are researching your ancestral roots in Union County, I would highly recommend that you read Blood Mountain Covenant.  The wondrous manner in the way that Mr. Hill has connected the spirit and devoutness of the mountain folk, the hard life they struggled to live, and their fierce dedication to their families, all of this taking place against the background of the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains, makes this a “must read.”  The book provides the reader with a sense of the era and with a deeper appreciation of what our ancestors struggled for day in and day out. 


          Over the years, the mountain people were given a truly unjust depiction of ignorance, stupidity and backwardness. That is far, far from the truth. Mr. Hill writes of how they are a quiet, proud and unpretentious people, springing from the same strong pioneer stock that helped to carve out the greatness of this mighty country of ours.  These people persevered; their love for the mountains is obvious, even today. 


          As a proud native son of these beautiful mountains, Mr. Hill has done a great justice for his family and for the truth.  Jim Lance was known to have said, “The truth will eventually prevail, for I know that as long as there is a Lance residing in Union County, they will be searching for the real truth.” (pg.223).  I dare say that perhaps now, maybe Jim Lance’s tormented soul  has attained a sense of peace knowing that his family had persevered, finally bringing vindication to his father’s good name.



                                                                   Martha Clayton Clement

                                                                   April 2004





Quotes taken from:

Blood Mountain Covenant; A Son’s Revenge

Charles E. Hill, author

Ivy House Publishing Company

Copyright 2003



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